A Tribute to Michael Gray

15 December 2022

It was with a heavy heart that we learned of the passing of former Trustee and Chairman Captain Michael Gray. Here we pay tribute to him, his work in establishing the Swan as a sail training vessel and his ongoing support of the Trust.

Michael was born on 4thJune 1938 in Scalloway, the middle son of John and Peggy Gray. Michael had a lifelong passion for the sea, which became evident from an early age when he spent many happy hours sailing around East Voe in his grandad’s boat. Michael attended the Anderson Educational Institute followed by Gordonstoun school when he was awarded a scholarship offered by Shell for pre-sea training. He then embarked on an apprenticeship as a cadet with Shell tankers, travelling the world and gaining deep sea sailing experience and his “tickets”.

Michael married Doreen Kirkness in 1965 and they spent the first year of marriage in Kirkwall before moving to Lerwick when Doreen took up a teaching post at the Anderson Institute. They have two children, Anne and David.

He later joined the North of Scotland Shipping Company and when back in Shetland he sailed as Mate on the Earl of Zetland, a job he looked back on fondly. Many lifelong friendships were made with the people he came across during this period. It is perhaps as Captain of the St Clair that he will be remembered by most.

His passion for all things maritime continued into his retirement. In a response to an article in the Shetland Times seeking new trustees, he joined the Swan Trust. The Swan had just completed the restoration phase and was being made ready for the operational phase which involved taking, mostly young trainees, to sea. In these formative years of the Swan becoming a sail training vessel Michael’s extensive knowledge of the sea, all things sailing, and the maritime industry was invaluable. His hard work, commitment and background knowledge was a major help in achieving the objectives of the Swan Trust at this time.

In the early years of operation Michael skippered the Swan on many trips around Shetland and across to Norway. Michael was skipper on the very first trip which involved carrying school pupils. He was always keen to ensure the bairns enjoyed their experience. At this time there was still only the minimum navigational equipment aboard. Michael saw this as a perfect teaching opportunity and gathered the group around to demonstrate how you could take all the bearings you needed with a chart, a compass, a pencil and a few sheets of blank paper. He always said how much he appreciated the quality of navigational instruction he received at Gordonstoun. He clearly enjoyed the opportunities to take the Swan to sea and his enthusiasm was a strong catalyst in helping the trust keep abreast of the many developments required to successfully manage a sea going sail training vessel.

He was a very active member of the Swan Trust during the first visit of the Tall Ships Races to Lerwick in 1999. Michael was the driving force in an extensive fund-raising campaign to obtain sponsorship for youths to participate in the Tall Ships Races. The money raised in this campaign far exceeded expectation and ended up fully funding all participants going on the Swan for these races.

He was also instrumental in organising events for trustees separate from the meetings and volunteering work. These social events, along with partners, formed friendships and mostly involved good food and an evening of fun and laughter recalling times past and memorable experiences.

Michael was a Trustee of the Swan for over 20 years and served as chairman for 10 of these years.

When he stood down from the trust, he never lost his interest in the Swan. He was always keen to get down to the pier to get news of the trips. He took particular interest in the current skipper of the Swan, Maggie Adamson, and followed the Swan movements at home on the marine tracker, watching progress on the tall ship races and other trips. He was delighted to recently spend an evening with Maggie discussing her latest trips and her future plans. Maggie made a very touching tribute to Michael by preparing a special recording of her playing “Leaving Lerwick Harbour” which was played in the church at the end of the funeral service.

When he retired, he bought his own yacht and spent 10 happy years sailing with friends around Shetland, Norway and the North of Scotland. Walking was another great passion with exploring Unst of particular interest. He also completed longer trips with friends which included the West Highland Way and the Southern Upland Way.

Michael also had a great interest in sport but missed out taking part because of his time at sea. However, when working on the north boat brought more regular shifts, he took up golf. In typical fashion, not just content with playing he became a committee member and later club captain. Always keen to help young folks along, and with Doreen at his side, he helped coach youngsters and took groups south to play different courses.

Michael passed away in the Gilbert Bain Hospital on 26 November 2022. He will be greatly missed by his family and all the many friends who knew him.


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